April has always been one of my favorite months, as it usually heralds the arrival of spring: longer, lighter days, breezy weather, delicate daffodils, and peeping baby frogs. Academics, however, like to quote T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and proclaim that “April is the cruelest month.” While it is true that the last month of the academic semester usually entails a mountain of grading, I always welcomed April gladly because it meant that the end of tedium and the beginning of May freedom was near.
That was certainly true last April in Altoona when I was a professor. But this year I am no longer tied to the academic calendar. And April weather in the San Francisco Bay Area was not all that different from the weather all winter. (I think I saw daffodils in January!) Nevertheless, there was something about this past month that continually lifted my spirits. Something like the warmth and excitement of an East coast spring. I think it was you.
Makes sense. You are blooming–shooting up in stature (31½ inches tall), getting bolder out in the world, and expanding your language and memory skills. This last area has impressed your parents the most. Every day, Sammy, you try out new words, and new combinations of words. I call these your proto-sentences: two or three or even four words that you string together. Articles, prepositions, and often verbs are missing, but because you repeat these sentences several times until your dunderhead parents get it, we are able now to have actual conversations. Some examples:
Dad: You’re listening to jazz
Sam: Ga? (signing music)
Dad: Yes, jazz is a type of music. Sam, are you a cool cat?
Sam: kee kat?
Sam: mama… ergo… baby weesh… gri grou?
Mom: You want Mama to take you in the Ergo to ride the baby swings at the playground?
Sam: Oh yeah!
Sam: Mama… ree buh… cow!
Mom: You want to read the book on the couch?
This is an example of one of your language “tricks.” Because you repeat the same words over and over until a parent says it back to you correctly (it’s like YOU’RE the language teacher sometimes), you often maneuver us into sounding as though we are offering you the thing that you desire in the first place:
Sam: bac yar… bee ball?
Mom (trying to cook dinner): in a minute, Sammy, I need to finish making dinner first.
Sam: bac yar… bee ball?
Mom: please be patient…
Sam: bac yar… bee ball?
Mom (about to go insane listening to the same thing over and over): You want to go into the back yard and play with the big ball?
The other strategy you’ve learned this month is the power of saying “please.” When you say and sign please (“peas”) it is difficult for Mama and Daddy to refuse you anything. Also when you refer to yourself! This past month you’ve been working on “S” sounds. “City,” “sand,” “Seamus” (the name of one of your teddy bears) and of course “Sam.” When you pronounce these they all sound like “esss” but when you point to yourself, we know you mean your name.
More and more, you want to converse about past events. This was confusing at first, because you had been a being who very much lived in the present, sometimes the immediate future (see above: Mama! Ree buh! cow!) But now out of the blue you’ll start to relive something from your past.
Sam: Bye bye kak…. Change (signing)
Mom: You said bye bye to the doctor.
Sam: Change! Change!
Mom: ??? Oh! I changed your diaper in the doctor’s office.
Sam: Mess… ear (while tapping her ears)
Mom: You take medicine for your ears… because you had an ear infection.
Sam: Mao (touching her mouth)
Mom: And we put the medicine in your mouth.
Sam: Bi ri… helm…
Mom: You went for a bike ride and you wore a helmet.
Sam: Heh heh heh (tapping her head)
Mom: You wore the helmet on your head.
Sam: Oh yeah.
You hate that bike helmet but you sure do love talking about it. You went for two bike rides this past month: one with Daddy up to Arlington Park, and one on the Bay Trail around the Richmond Marina on Dad’s birthday weekend. I can’t blame you for disliking the helmet–it’s heavy and makes it difficult for you to turn your head to the side to see out of the sidecarrier. We are hopeful that as you get bigger and stronger, biking will be a more pleasant experience for you. Even so, the rides this month were much more successful than the first one back in February. Daddy hears you shout “wheee!” when you two ride down hills, and we make sure to take pit stops at playgrounds where you can stretch your legs.
Oh yes, playgrounds. They have been a big part of your 19th month. We go to a playground nearly every day, and fortunately there are several good ones within walking distance of our house. I have a vivid memory of meeting a 19-month old girl back in November at one of the neighborhood parks. She was running around, chasing after her 4-year old sister, and handling the slide and climbing structure like a pro. I was impressed. I couldn’t imagine you that big, that bold, that coordinated. Apparently this girl had been walking since 10 months old. Well yesterday as I watched you climb up the steps, traipse over the swinging bridge, and then come down the slide by yourself, I realized that you are just about there. You can even ride the “big kid” swing all by yourself now! Although you need frequent reminders to hold on with two hands–not an easy thing for a signing toddler who also loves to point things out.
Between your love of pointing things out and your love of giving orders, Sam, you’ve become quite a little tot dictator. It’s very cute, if sometimes disconcerting, to come into the living room, sit down on the couch, and then get immediate orders to do something else: “Mama! Up!” So I stand up. “Mama! Down!” Oh, ok, you want me to come down on the floor with you and play. After I change your diaper, you now insist on throwing it away yourself. “Away! Away!” If I toss the diaper into the pail by reflex, you become very angry. So then we find something else for you to throw away. I thought teaching you to throw things in the trash can was so clever. But I failed to imagine the sorts of things you would decide to dispose of: perfectly clean, unused diapers and tissues, important receipts, toys, shoes. Luckily you often announce your intentions as you run towards the can in the kitchen, crying “Away! Away!” So I can usually intervene in your enthusiastic trash management.
One of your other favorite “away” destinations is the cat door to the back yard. For months now you’ve enjoyed opening and closing the flap, while you observe poor Camus in his self-selected refuge. This month you figured out that if you throw things “away” in the back yard, Mama will have to open the door to go outside and retrieve them. The other morning before breakfast you threw a ball out there. I heard you say “Ball? Bac yar?” a couple of times. Then you ran determinedly into the living room, got your shoes and jacket from the hall closet, and brought them to the back door. I stifled my laughter while you struggled to put your shoes on by yourself. Finally you looked up at me and said “Ball? Bac yar? Shoe?” It was just too cute. “Okay,” I said, “We can go retrieve the ball in the back yard, but then we have to come right back in and eat breakfast.” “Okay!” you said brightly. Hah. No sooner did you step outside then you began to run around and kick the ball. “Sam, please come inside now.” “NO!” “Sam, we had a deal. You’re breaking the deal.” “Deah?” “Yes, we had a deal.” I picked up the ball and tossed it back inside the house. You trotted after it happily. I followed and closed the back door, to your howls of displeasure. I’m sorry, honey.
Although you have a growing awareness of the past, the future is still an elusive concept for you. When you want something, you want it NOW. Your latest way to express desire is by signing “milk” while saying something that sounds like “Nantes.” I eventually figured out that this is “want.” We see Mimi the cat next door and you cry “Nantes! Nantes!” “You want Mimi?” “Yah!” Often you have conflicting wants. You’ll want to read two books at the same time, or go to the back yard and the playground at the same time. This morning you broke down while I was dressing you because you wanted to wear your red pants, then when I had them on you, you wanted to wear overalls. “O er aw! Nantes!” I’ve been thinking a lot about Freud this month. Despite his many flawed theories of psychosexual development, I do believe he was on to something with his basic model of the psyche. You’re definitely in an “id” phase: pure, present, sometimes irrational desire. It must be overwhelming to manage those impulses. No wonder toddlers have tantrums. No wonder I sometimes feel like I need a drink at 11 AM.
It’s not always easy being the enforcer of rules and limits. When I see you discover some new activity or ability, I often want to revel in it with you. But sometimes I want to tear my hair out… such as when you ran around the house streaming toilet paper behind you, or when you threw a pile of clean clothes on top of the dust bunnies I was sweeping up, then put the clothes on top of the bed. Yesterday you climbed up onto the office chair and pulled my laptop off of my desk onto the floor. This morning you dragged the recycling bin into the bathroom and started to dump the empty jars and cans into the bathtub. I must confess that some days there are equal amounts of shouting and laughter in the house. It must be so confusing, baby girl. I hope that someday it makes sense.
I hear you stirring now in your crib. You just napped nearly 2.5 hours! Thank you for giving me time to write these thoughts down, and to recharge my batteries. In a moment I’ll walk into your room. You’ll be standing in your crib, hair askew in 8 different directions. You’ll probably want to read the book we read before naptime again (“Lulu Vroumette”). You’ll probably refuse to put your pants back on. You may insist that your crib plushies come out of the crib, then go back in again. You’ll likely run away from me when I try to change your diaper. There will be much giggling, possibly some tears too. And you are definitely going to get a big hug and kiss from your Mama, who loves you more than any words can say.